Thursday, June 14, 2007
I’m not a connoisseur of musicals, but I’d say that Good News (MGM, Charles Walters) is a good example of a lesser-known (i.e. non-canonical) Freed unit musical. High-key, impeccable Technicolor production values, and complex mise-en-scene are matched to a frumpy-girl-gets-the-football-hero romance. (June Allyson as the frumpy girl, Peter Lawford as the football hero). I'm not sure much decoding is needed to figure out that Good News is about the chanelling of men's libido into socially acceptable women, but this strikes me as a subtext that plenty of contemporary viewers might only half get. (Changed courtship rituals undoubtedly undercut support for the musical as genre.)
I’d always known that the musical privileges long takes, following camerawork, and long shots to allow the virtuosity of the dancers’ bodies to show through. What’s striking about Good News is the maintenance of the longtake even when the actors are not dancing a virtuoso performance. Here's this one-minute take in the library scene:
The result is a pursuit of long take aesthetic as a formal device for its own sake. Incidentally, this musical number ends on a violation of the 180 degree rule (with a slight continuity error in actor proximity, no less). Granted this rule might be looser in transitioning between setups, but it’s jarring nonetheless to viewers used to classical Hollywood practice:
More conventional is this frontal composition, wherein the actress avoids direct address to camera.
Throughout, the set design and costuming is vibrant, even leading to abstract patterns.
By the way, I tend to resist teaching musicals in a general film studies intro class, worried that camp spectatorship (at best) or historical chauvinism (at worst) will drown out everything else. Is that fear justified?